Book review: ‘A Vacation On The Island of Ex-Boyfriends’ by Stacy Bierlein

Ever fantasize about seeing a lover again? In these scenarios you’re likely dressed to kill, looking as gorgeous and slim as you ever have; your hair is perfectly arranged, smile dazzling. The ex-boyfriend catches you mid-laugh as you hang on the arm of your handsome new guy (a doctor or pilot or scientist, natch), who delights the crowd with his fourth hilarious story of the evening. An your old guy? He’s just another worn-out shoe. You remember loving it once, but in a distant way. And anyway, you’ve found a better replacement.

Now imagine seeing an ex-boyfriend again . . . with all your former lovers. Not in a singular, crystallized moment — and not when you’re looking your best. When you’re on a desert island, left wondering how you could have ended up stranded with every punk you ever dated. The men are lined up before you: the tall ones; the short ones; the ones who couldn’t keep a job. The female friend with whom you were planning to vacation is on the island, too, with her former flames vying for her attention. But yours? Well, they’re as lackluster as ever. Only the one you never really had — the one you desperately wanted, but couldn’t make work — seems interested. And you’re not sure you want to go down that road.

Thus begins Stacy Bierlein’s A Vacation On The Island of Ex-Boyfriends, a collection of unrelated short stories detailing many women’s struggles to find, keep, steal or forget love. There’s romantic love, familial love, the love of a mother for her child. The love between lovers; the love between a daughter and her father. It’s all here in varying shades, catapulted between different cities and countries. Between a bevy of characters who are all searching, desperately searching, for something.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this book. It had a promising start, with the titular story probably being my favorite in the set — I mean, who doesn’t love the idea of an island filled with ex-boyfriends? (Not that that would be so great in real life — but, you know.) Some stories are first-person accounts — and I tended to like those best. Having a theatre background meant I read those like monologues, picturing a single woman speaking against a dark backdrop. With a spotlight. And that worked for me.

On the whole, though, I didn’t feel particularly compelled to keep reading. Some stories were shorter than others, and my attention ping-ponged as I continued. One reviewer notes the tidy lack of a beginning, middle and end to each individual work, and I agree. Overall, I finished feeling rather unsatisfied — like something was missing. I wanted a little closure, I guess. And that didn’t happen.

Though the lighthearted cover only begins to hint at romantic discord, A Vacation on the Island of Ex-Boyfriends is definitely more in the literary fiction camp. Bierlein’s writing is fluid and her descriptions evocative, but the short story format didn’t really work for me. I think I would enjoy reading a full-length book by her — and possibly continue on with some of the characters she introduces, especially the dot artist in Chicago. But as a whole, I wasn’t emotionally involved. It felt incomplete.

3 out of 5!

ISBN: 0615529771 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Twitter
Review copy provided by LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers in exchange for my honest review

A (new) movie script ending

I have a lot of break-up songs on my iPod.

I was once a Broken-Hearted Girl, a moniker I wore like a badge of honor. I’ve always felt things deeply. When I was younger and less disciplined, this could result in epic arguments with boyfriends. Those fights would dissolve into ugly break-ups on the phone, in parking lots, outside of restaurants. Everywhere, really.

It’s funny to think about who I was then versus who I am now. Like all teens and early 20-somethings, I had no idea what I was looking for in a mate. My requirements, especially in the beginning, were slim: was he cute? And did he like me? If both were true, I would gladly chat with you on AOL Instant Messenger (oh, the days!) or accept a short-but-sweet phone call while my dad surveyed the scene from the next room. I wasn’t in my first “real” relationship until I was 17, which sounds young now — but trust that it felt old as dirt when I was a teen, obsessed with the fact that “everyone had a boyfriend” but me.

Over the years, my romantic entanglements were messy. There were the military men, including the Marine that broke my heart for the first time. (That sucked. But it was also seven years ago.) The boys who thought they were men — but really weren’t. The bad kissers. The dudes who couldn’t get their stuff together. The ones who were nice but just too nice — brotherly nice. And some fit several of those descriptions.

For a while, it felt like I was destined to wade through life without finding someone who actually meant something to me. After that first heartbreak, I felt resigned to just let the chips fall as they may. I didn’t really try. I was complacent at work, complacent in my friendships; I was too hung up on the past to move into the future. After ending an almost three-year relationship with a so wrong-for-me guy (who married someone else the following year), my one attempt at meeting someone organically was an epic disaster. I confused meeting a short guy with a larger-than-life ego as some sort of “kismet,” totally embarrassed myself by trying to force something that had no business being forced and then just felt . . . defeated. And awful.

Then I met Spencer.

{Top, April 2010, weeks after we met; October 2011}

I like talking about him — because I love him. As today is Valentine’s Day, I’ve been thinking about the paths that brought me to this moment. All the “God blessed the broken road that led me straight to you” sort of times, you know? I get annoyed with all the empty cliches about “I found the man I love when I finally stopped looking!” because, you know, I was looking. I was very actively looking. I was on a dating site, for cryin’ out loud; when I finally woke up to the fact that I’m totally type-A and wasn’t cool with just waiting for a partner to drop into my lap, I was really committed to the search.

Still, Spencer made the “first move,” if you will, out there in cyberspace; I kept all our early email exchanges. We wrote back and forth just a few times before agreeing to meet for coffee on a Sunday afternoon. When I close my eyes, I can see him walking into the cafe with his long, unruly curls and easy smile. He was my third (and final) date in a week — a beacon I hadn’t known I’d been searching for.

From that initial meeting, we’ve been inseparable. I don’t have any doubts — about him; about us. There have been no teary fights. No arguments that lasted long into the night, and no fiery parking-lot break-ups. No accusations, and no broken trust.

I stopped listening to my iPod a few months back, sick of my endless streams of sad, sappy break-up tunes. I tired of the melancholy riffs of Death Cab for Cutie, though “A Movie Script Ending” was once a favorite song. They were all a complete carry-over from those broken-hearted days, and I longed to start fresh.

Except for the odd-ball moment, I don’t think about the past anymore.

And I think I’ll get my “movie script ending” after all.

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!